This post was originally published on Winederlusting.com.
When we say travel makes you "smarter," we don't mean you're all of a sudden going to become a genius. (If that happens, let us know in the comments.) But traveling will certainly make you more worldly, force you to think in different ways and help you to embrace unique cultural practices. All of which will ultimately create more neurological connections in your brain, making you quicker to react, think through logic and work through problem solving more efficiently.
"One should not pursue goals that are easily achieved." - Albert Einstein
What Einstein said is at the root of what this brief discussion is about. You're only as smart as your experience, and if you don't challenge yourself past your comfort zone -- you're setting limits on your potential that need not be there. Both new experiences and doing things you already know -- the hard way -- will keep your cognitive skills sharp.
You Meet New People
As you go through life, you're going to meet great people, inspiring people, kind people and strange people. You're also going to meet people you don't like. A lot of them. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. Every person you meet has a story and a reason why they are who they are. Always remember that before you pass judgement.
However, crucially, your interactions with all of these individuals throughout your life will impart experiential knowledge upon you.
This knowledge will come in all forms -- from learning new skills and improving your storytelling, to learning how to take the high road in difficult situations. Slowly you'll discover that by default, you have a new found confidence in yourself, but not a cockiness.
Your social skills will also improve, which will lead to better future conversations and allow you to learn more about the people you come into contact with. You'll enhance your understanding of all kinds of people, become more open-minded in general and heighten your appreciation for diversity.
"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness." - Mark Twain
Expand Your Palate
Traveling will allow you to sample a wide array of new foods and beverages. No matter where you're from, some ingredients will be familiar and others will be foreign. The best advice I can give you, (unless you're allergic) is to try them. Try the most obscure item on the menu. Maybe it will lead to a great story down the road. In any case, you're exposing your brain to new sensations and flavors. Even if it's a food you know - perhaps country X uses tomato sauce and country Y uses a melted cheese blend - change it up.
Taking this a step further, inquire about how a dish you like is cooked. When you get home, show your friends and teach your children. Spread good culture.
"Don't tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you've travelled." - Mohamed
Learn New Languages
Most of the time when we travel to a country where we're not familiar with the language, we struggle to get by. Utilizing grunts, hand signals or putting a foreign-sounding accent around our English (I know, I'm guilty) will only get you so far. What we can do, however, is try.
Learning a new language is not easy and it's not something you're going to pick up on a short trip abroad. However, locals generally really appreciate it when a tourist makes an honest attempt to speak their language.
Even if you're timid, learn the basics before your trip to a foreign country. When you get there, expand on them. If you find a local who also speaks your language, engage them in conversation and ask them for words to add to your arsenal. Learning to ask for directions, using please and definitely thank you, will give a native a better first impression.
We already know that understanding two languages makes you smarter. The more foreign words you keep in your back pocket, the better for your mind in both the moment and the long run.
"One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things." - Henry Miller
Open Your Mind to New Experiences
Whatever form they come in. Always keep safety in mind, but if there's something on your bucket list (for me it was diving between two tectonic plates in Iceland), you need to go for it.
Some of these experiences you may never immerse yourself in again. Others you'll find so riveting, so breathtaking that you won't be able to stop doing them. In either case, what's important is that you sample that experience. You'll never know until you try, and you never know what positive outcome it may yield. Whether immediate or later in life. What if that experience leads you to a business idea that changes the world for the better? Go for it.
"Bizarre travel plans are dancing lessons from God." - Kurt Vonnegut
Become More Self-Sufficient
Traveling, especially solo traveling, will challenge you extensively. Often we don't even realize how much we're wearing ourselves down or challenging our problem solving skills. At the end of the day, if you're still standing, you've bettered yourself. You've learned new skills, whether they be navigating a foreign city by subway, or learning the basics of a language, you can use this knowledge in future situations.
You learn through traveling that you don't need anyone else to get by. You just need your own head on your shoulders, a positive mindset and a will to live in the moment.
"Travel and change of place impart new vigour into the mind." - Seneca
Become a Better Traveler
While this is related to self-sufficiency, it's a little different in that you'll learn a specific skill-set that will deepen your travel experience and make the process more efficient.
For example, I tend to overpack. After every trip I embark on, I'm slowly learning what I really need to bring and what's overkill. The next time I travel, I'm packing less, folding better, and checking fewer bags. You'll also learn how to hail cabs in different languages, become knowledgable about travel hacking and become more budget-conscious throughout your trips.
"Once you have travelled, the voyage never ends, but is played over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey." - Pat Conroy
Learn New Skills
Staying in hostels, being a dinner guest in a foreign home, going on rugged hikes, playing a game of pickup football with Argentines -- all of these examples can help you learn new skills and tricks. From cooking a new dish to doing a bicycle kick. I recently learned how to scuba dive in a dry suit abroad -- something I had never been able to do before in the U.S.
Taking part in these unique experiences will help you learn new skills. While short trips won't always give you time to hone them fully, even briefly practicing a new skill can go a long way.
See Unique Things
Every country has something unique to offer. From stunning landscapes to amazing animals or mind-blowing architecture. See something different. It might inspire you to create something great or embark on a unique quest. Always keep an open mind.
"The world is a book and those who do not travel only read one page." - St. Augustine
The most crucial thing to keep in mind when you travel is to live in the moment. If you see something that makes your draw drop, take it in for a few minutes - before you pull out your camera. Be here right now. Ultimately, this will allow you to be inspired. Whether it's by the people you meet while you're abroad, or by something you see. That inspiration can only make you a happier, progressively smarter person.
Greig Santos-Buch is an avid traveler, wine connoisseur and saltwater enthusiast. He writes frequently about methods for travel at little to no cost. Learn about wine and efficient travel by following his scenic journeys on on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and his website, Winederlusting.com.